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Backpacker Magazine – November 2012

The High Life: Hidden Lake Peak Fire Lookout, WA

Claim an eagle's roost above Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

by: Michael Lanza

Hidden Lake Peak Fire Lookout, WA (Photo by Ethan Welty)
Hidden Lake Peak Fire Lookout, WA (Photo by Ethan Welty)
Inside the HIdden Lake Peak Fire Lookout Cabin (Photo by Ethan Welty)
Inside the HIdden Lake Peak Fire Lookout Cabin (Photo by Ethan Welty)

Few hikers have heard of Skagit Alpine Club member Fred Darvill. But trek to the cabin he saved, and you’ll never forget his name. Six decades ago, Darvill launched an effort to preserve this retired fire lookout from a flaming demise at the hands of the Forest Service. Thanks to him, you can now stay in the best lookout in the country, bar none. Perched on a granite boulder pile at 6,900 feet, the cabin takes in a 360-degree panorama of toothy North Cascades peaks, including 8,800-footers Eldorado, Forbidden, and Boston Peaks, distant volcanoes Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains. 

Maintained today by volunteers organized by Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout (they’re on Facebook), the roughly 10-by-15-foot structure is free and first-come, first-serve for overnight stays, with no amenities beyond a table, a platform with mats for two people, two more mats that fit on the floor, and a small library. There’s no porch, but lots of windows, and virtually always snowmelt nearby for water. On a clear night, lay out your bags on the big, flat rock just outside the lookout. The 4.5-mile Hidden Lake Trail begins in lush temperate rainforest, ascends through meadows of lupine, hellebores, and blueberries, and traverses slopes of heather before reaching its rocky terminus at the lookout. Pack an ice axe; you’ll cross a steep snow gully three miles up the trail. 


Season Mid-August to mid-September is best, after summer’s mosquitoes have tapered off.

Map/guide BACKPACKER PRO Map Hidden Lake Lookout ($20;; Day Hiking North Cascades, by Craig Romano ($19;

Get there The Hidden Lake Trail begins at the end of Sibley Creek Road 1540 (off Cascade River Road, east of Marblemount).

Cost/info There’s no fee or reservations, but go prepared to camp outside if it’s full (weekends are busier, naturally); (206) 470-4060;

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Apr 17, 2014

My girlfriend and I did this trip overnight in Aug. 2013. It was unplanned, the ranger at Marble Mount recommended it, for the area we wanted to go had no permits available.

The hike was fantastic through several climate zones.

We slept in a tent on the meadow side of the ridge and peak. The lookout was full. It is small. In August, in the morning, there was new ice on the surface of the small water source. And Hidden Lake was frozen too.So, bring a decent sleeping bag. It was windy at times and almost thought I should have brought a more powerful stove, but the mini-top jet alcohol burner worked fine with a windscreen. There are no trees to hang food and we each had Bear Boxer Contender bear canisters(great for short trips that require a bear canister) and cheap too!

We went on a Thursday night and glad we did, for there were few people up there. The next day, on the way out the weekend crowd was already on the way up and we must have passed at least 75 people on the way down the trail.

Overall, it was one of the most spectacular trips I have ever taken, and I have been in the Himalayas, Andes, Swiss Alps, Rockies, Sierra's and several more mountain ranges in different countries.

No need to get a passport with places like this in the USA.


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